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Sacrifices like the Fengshan were dedicated to Shangdi2, with offerings to the six ancestors; made gazing to the mountains and rivers, and made everywhere to all the G.o.ds. Dawning from Qin Shi3, made extravagant by Han Wu4, the rites could not be performed in troubled times, thus Taizong failed several times to carry it out despite his desire, yet the current Emperor had done it.
At the same time he has succeeded in bring along the Empress to conduct the sacrifices together, to manifest to the world, and govern in Court together, which could be said as unforeseen since the dawn of time.
Xie Yun did not return to the banquet at Qingning Palace, but directly went home. Shan Chao was drenched all over like him, and sat with him in a horse-carriage warmed by a brazier, remaining silent the entire way, only listening as the carriage wheels pa.s.sed on wet sounds as they rolled through Zhongzheng Street.
When they pa.s.sed by the front gates of Ci'en Temple, Shan Chao abruptly reached out to lift the carriage curtain. The tall temple gates towered in silent majesty within the night air, and the jade steps at the gate led directly up, disappearing into the unfathomable darkness within.
"Just speak if you want to go back and hit the wooden fish5," Xie Yun broke out lazily.
Yet Shan Chao remained gazing as the temple gates gradually became farther with the carriage's advance, and abruptly gave a smile tinged with a thread of ridicule: "No, I was just thinking… on that day when Master was returning home very late at night, and pa.s.sed by Ci'en Temple, why did you sudden lift the carriage curtain, and give a glance outside?"
Xie Yun finally opened the eyes that he had kept closed all this time. The inside of the carriage was warmed by the brazier's roaring fire, and his wet eyelashes had long dried, raising in languid relaxation, with a careless arc, not answering but asking: "—Do you want to go back to Ci'en Temple now?"
Shan Chao did not think that there was anything bad about his two-year stint of cultivation in the monastery. As long as a man's heart was stable, he could live anywhere, and there was nothing unbearable about a schedule set by morning bells and evening drums with plain tea and simple food.
Yet—Shan Chao pondered for a moment, and still shook his head, saying: "Not for now."
Xie Yun ridiculed: "So your reason for lifting the curtain and looking out just now was the same as mine… bored and unoccupied, just taking a look."
Shan Chao's temple throbbed, and Xie Yun closed his eyes again.
The carriage drove back to the Xie Manor, and the servants were already waiting with lanterns lit, their leader quite astonishingly being the housekeeping maid in pink muslins. Xie Yun descended from the carriage wrapped in fox-fur, and she immediately advanced, giving a strict salute of greeting, and raising a gold-lacquered tray as big as a rice-bucket: "Commander, just now Qingning Palace had sent someone with gifts, your servant did not dare to touch it, may Commander please check!"
Shan Chao walked to behind Xie Yun, and then stopped.
Within that golden tray were two brand-new Imperial Guard uniforms, one with deep red flying fish patterns against a white background, matched with belt and leather boots, it went without saying as the Imperial Guard Commander's style, with a glowing luminous pearl even holding down the uniform; the other was also a brocade robe, yet without as much complicated embriodery, with the reverse colour scheme.
Xie Yun slowly opened the one on the right, matching it on Shan Chao's body, where the shoulder-width and leg-length were just right.
Xie Yun casually threw the brocade robe into Shan Chao's arms, and turned around to leave.
The Imperial Guard Commander falling into the water while on night patrol, was originally a trivial matter, and especially in the situation of the Exalted One announcing to the world of the expedition east to Mt Tai, was a mere detail.
Yet it was precisely such a small matter, which evoked not a small wave of response in the Palace and as far as the imperial Court, and all manner of rumours were spoken in the streets—Empress Wu was ruthless and brutal, and Commander Xie took the side of the evildoer, and the wronged souls of the deposed Empress and Consort Xiao dragged him underwater almost as a scapegoat; Empress Wu did things perversely, Commander Xie helped the villain do evil, and the honest and upright officials who died wronged in the jails came to demand his soul in the middle of the night, and almost entered the Yama Palace…
"Different broth but same old medicine," Xie Yun turned a page of the book in his hand: "It was so when Lady Wu was t.i.tled as Empress, when the Crown Prince was established, and again with the Fengshan sacrifice at Mt Tai. Resentment in this world has a cause, this is mere rumour, no need to take offence."
Xie Yun had not entered the Palace since falling into water that night, yet wave after wave of people coming up to visit him at his sickbed came, and nearly half the officials in Chang'an had reported — even if they did not come, their presents had.
As for the remaining half who gave neither present nor person, the rumours they spread had turned a round by Xie Yun's ears, and he circled them with a light brushstroke.
Shan Chao stood beside him, seeing one name after another circled out amongst the Chang'an roll of officials, and Xie Yun pointed to a few names at the top and leisurely said: "The Eastern Tower official Zhang Wenguan, having once received the imperial decree to collate all the books in the four collections6, the Exalted One means to train him as the Left Messenger7; the Western Tower's a.s.sistant Minister Dai Zhide, nephew of Taizong's Chancellor Dai, the current Examining Left Protector of the Crown Prince, in the future certainly bound to be appointed a premier in the cabinet…"
Shan Chao spoke in curiosity: "Why do you circle them out?"
Xie Yun respectfully said: "They once vilified me."
Shan Chao: "…"
"Last year's end a feast was set in the Palace, and all the ministers were chatting and drinking, when the Exalted One suddenly asked me: 'Why is Puyang called the Mound of Emperors?', when at that time I had choked on a sip of wine, and had no time to speak, when a.s.sistant Minister Dai said: 'Because Zhuanxu lived there in antiquity, hence it is called the Mound of Emperors; Commander Xie may have reached the pinnacle of skill, yet his chest has no learning, truly a shame.'—the meaning being that I have not a word in my breast, with simple brains, and all four limbs are developed."
Xie Yun put down his writing brush, and raised his jaw towards the teacup.
Shan Chao actually had some opposition, yet from his point of view, Xie Yun's slightly raised eyes made with his temples a… curve that a young man with few life experiences like Shan Chao could not describe, and his eyes fixed upon that for a while, and then somehow complied to pour a cup of hot tea, and pa.s.s it into Xie Yun's cold palms.
Xie Yun sneered: "Isn't it good if you were so understanding and discreet sooner."
"……" Shan Chao dully said: "A disciple should help out when there is a matter, I did what I was supposed to do."
Xie Yun sneered: "Who is your teacher?"
Shan Chao drew a breath, pointing to the roll of officials and asked: "—these people are the Crown Prince faction?"
"That is naturally yes."
"Since the Empress dares to kill even the Crown Prince, why not simply kill them too?"
"That is naturally no."
Shan Chao narrowed his eyes slightly.
Xie Yun took a sip of hot tea, closing the roll of officials: "The Empress has three… four sons, if the Crown Prince dies, it is possible to change for another. Yet these old men who constantly speak of etiquette and morality may constantly make things difficult for you, be harsh to you, and wish to lift their flat sceptres8 to beat you to death, yet you cannot touch them, because you still have to depend on them to rule the country."
"They are different from the Guanlong clans back then, and have yet to threaten the cornerstone of imperial power, and normally everything they do is ultimately for the country and state—killing people is simple, yet what about after the killing? A land of vile characters singing praises, cannot compare to a court of able officials opposing each other measure for measure; 'those at high positions must tolerate dissidents', discusses this principle."
Shan Chao suddenly realised that Xie Yun seemed to like teaching him, giving a long and flowing speech, which on the surface sounded unreservedly on the career of a bureaucrat-official, yet sometimes unexpectedly incisive.
In comparison Xie Yun never taught martial arts, to the point that he himself did not practice martial arts. Since returning from Sword-Forging Manor, he had never drawn his sword, and seemed to be extremely afraid of the cold, wrapped up in layers of woollen cloaks in late autumn.
Shan Chao gazed at him in deep thought, and Xie Yun's soft fingertips casually caressed the suffused yellow sheepskin roll to brush it, and asked: "Do you understand?"
"What do you understand?"
"A premier's stomach can hold a boat9, to plan for the state, and though some people are vexing, yet they cannot be killed."
"Yes," The graceful corners of Xie Yun's mouth rose: "Yet what I taught you was not the path of the minister."
—those of high position, yet not a minister, who is that?
Yet Xie Yun did not answer, and suddenly opened his mouth to elaborate in interest:
"These old fellows make things difficult for you everywhere, ill-treat you, and regularly ponder on how to kill you, and you may be vexed, yet powerless…"
"This is because your food, tools, and housing depends on them, and if you irritate them you'll be chased out to sleep under bridges and in caves…"
Shan Chao: "…"
Shan Chao earnestly asked: "How much money do you intend to collect, Master?"
Xie Yun seemed to find this amusing, tilting his head to study Shan Chao up and down, a look of a.s.sessing a valuable object in his eyes.
"Let it be, you still have quite an investment value." He lightly said: "In a few years when you've made your success, just don't forget to leave a bite for your teacher here."
Shan Chao shook his head and smiled, not treating this seriously. By coincidence a maid came in to invite them to dinner, and thus he turned around and walked towards the outside of the study.
When he reached the door he stopped walking, turning his head to look at Xie Yun and said: "You're not old, Master."
Xie Yun was currently putting the register of officials back on the bookshelf, and upon hearing this he was startled, following which he smiled: "Yes, this teacher was being modest, do not take it seriously."
Shan Chao was living temporarily at the Xie Manor, and this 'temporarily' had already extended to half a month.
Besides the Xie Manor he had nowhere else to go, and nowhere else to reach—because the day after the drowning in the Palace, the Empress sent a messenger to elaborately exaggerate over Xie Yun, praising him as a faithful patriot, diligent in matters of the imperial clan, and also praised Shan Chao as a heroic rescuer, perceptive in action. Although on the surface it was to placate the exploited Commander Xie, yet at the end it vaguely revealed her original intention: since you were the one to bring Shan Chao here, then wait at attention in the Xie Manor, and wait until we have come up with an idea to deal with this.
—fortunately Empress Wu now had no energy to come up with an idea. In a few days, the exalted carriage would set out to the eastern capital Luoyang, bringing a majestic entourage of over ten thousand civil and military accompaniments to go by way of Henan, towards Mount Tai.
That day the Xie Manor had a hard-won silence, and at dinner there was only Xie Yun and Shan Chao sitting across each other, with the supervising maid personally setting out the plates—it was only later that Shan Chao knew that she was a Palace maid bestowed by Empress Wu, named Jinxin. For this reason, Shan Chao had always remained at a respectful distance from her, yet Jinxin was apparently extremely fond of Shan Chao, and often when they met she would cover her mouth and smile, her gaze spread wide, as if concealing several words to say.
This afternoon Jinxin had specially ordered people to prepare a bowl of stuffed beancurd rolls, and when she served it at dinner that night her hand stopped, took up a bowl before Shan Chao which had only soup left at the bottom to move to before Xie Yun, and then put down the fragrant and tender deliciously sweet beancurd rolls where the soup had been.
Xie Yun was originally weakly drinking porridge, and upon seeing this was rather curious, asking: "Who is your master?"
Jinxin smiled and said: "What then if you are my master? Commander does not like to eat this at first, why would you not allow those who like it to eat."
Shan Chao touched his nose and move aside his gaze, yet Xie Yun seemed to find this very interesting: "Since you like him so much, I'll let you serve him, how about it?"
He had said similar words for a few times already, yet every time was teasing, and n.o.body had ever taken it seriously. Jinxin thus gave a happy tinkling laugh, giving a salute, before she gracefully exited.
Different from Xie Yun, Shan Chao slept early every night, and woke up early the next day, a resting habit cultivated during his time in the monastery which could be said to be extremely orderly, to the point of being severe.
He fell asleep soon after blowing out the lamps, yet not long had pa.s.sed, when a nerve on his body suddenly tightened subconsciously, and Shan Chao's eyes opened and he turned over to sit up, one hand sweeping with the power to split mountains, striking directly by the bedside!
A graceful silhouette narrowly dodged, clothes still carrying the scent of incense strong enough to cover the whole room, and then a woman's light and winsome voice sounded: "May this gentleman not be frightened, it is I."
Shan Chao's eyebrows knitted together.
That was astonishingly Jinxin!
Fortunately his hand had slanted a bit at the critical moment, otherwise the woman's soft throat would already be chopped into two parts now.
Jinxin smiled as she patted her chest, the room was filled with moonlight, and her full figure sat by the bedside, her snow-white soft skin barely discernible under the light muslin, and this caress exhibited an alluring contour. That cascade of black hair and clothing seemed to vaguely give off a perfume, able to make people drunk to their bones and hook away souls, and speed up the heart of any normal man.
A conjecture beyond belief floated up in Shan Chao's mind, but his face revealed nothing: "Why did Miss come?"
Jinxin's glittering eyes fixed unwavering on him, as if penetrating his eye sockets to peer into the depths of his brain, as well as his innermost being, and then she reached out to stroke Shan Chao's rugged and stiff shoulder.
—at present the extravagant style was in vogue in Chang'an, and men also paid serious attention to dressing up, so it was rare to see such a heroic and rigid shoulder.
"Does the gentleman not understand?" Jinxin stooped by his ear to smile: "The Commander ordered me to come serve you… naturally we would do whatever you wish."
She felt under her hand Shan Chao's muscle stretch taut slightly.
"Of course if the gentleman does not like me, we can subst.i.tute other people." Jinxin said with a smile: "There are many pretty maids in the manor, it is only that I would be rather… disappointed."
Where moonlight crossed with darkness, Shan Chao's expression was made indistinct by the light and shadow concealing him, and his chest undulated for a moment, before he coldly said: "Your Commander, does he usually use this method to entertain guests?!"
Jinxin was slightly stunned, and then could not help but break out in laughter: "Commander does as he pleases, including on how to treat his guests—it is only that Master, Chang'an is a place dazzling with luxury, and the charms of the fair s.e.x, since you are already here, why not do as the natives do?"
Shan Chao leant back, and Jinxin bent over to practically stick to his front, and a lock of hair began to slide from his shoulder towards his chest: "There are still many more enticements that Master would meet, with power and position, the four cardinal vices, and fair beauties pa.s.s like clouds, and there would be more luxuries of colour and sound that would overwhelm you… if you cannot stand it now, what would you do if you are dazzled in the future?"
Her red lips slowly approached, yet at this moment, Shan Chao reached out and blocked her arm which was circling closer, and then got up to drape on his clothes, striding towards the door.
Jinxin was rather startled, frowning: "Master?"
Shan Chao stood by the doorway, his rear view a solid figure, seeming to have enveloped all the light in his shadow, that it was impossible to make out even a glimmer.
"Miss, I am merely a pa.s.sing visitor in Chang'an, power and position and all luxuries of colour and sound are merely clouds pa.s.sing before the eyes, I am indebted to your many kindnesses—please go back."
He opened the door, and before Jinxin's astonished gaze walked out without looking back.
Within the night the Xie Manor backyard was shining in all respects, and Shan Chao strode through the promenade, directly arriving before the study door, and with a sharp creak pushed the door open!
The inner room was brightly lit, and Xie Yun was currently leaning behind the desk to flip through doc.u.ments, while beside him beyond a muslin curtain, there was the vague silhouette of a singer playing the konghou, startled by the door opening that the melody stopped.
Xie Yun's eyes rose: "What is it?"
Shan Chao glanced towards the silhouette: "—step down."
His voice was not heavy, yet the singer was startled, getting up with fear and trepidation to lift her silks, timidly glanced towards the man who had suddenly barged in, and looking at Xie Yun who had no intention of speaking, hurriedly saluted and tiptoed out.
Shan Chao waited until the singer had completely disappeared down the walkway, before closing the door with a bang. Turning his head he saw that Xie Yun had already put down his brush, studying Shan Chao from behind the desk, without any vagueness or guilt in his gaze, and on the contrary gave a clear, ice-cold and terrifying examination.
Shan Chao had just spoken a word, when he was carelessly interrupted by Xie Yun lifting one unruffled finger: "What did you come here for, why don't you scram back?"
Translator's Notes Chapter 24: Fengshan
The Fengshan sacrifices can be read up here.
This chapter might not touch on much about the Fengshan sacrifices itself per se, but I've written out these notes to highlight their importance in the story and its background. The Fengshan sacrifices are usually performed by emperors who not only have achieved something amazing in history; the financial power involved in building the altars and getting the entire Court to set out to Mt Tai and back is also a political performance of imperial power.
Furthermore, historically the previous Emperor Taizong of Tang (Gaozong's father) wanted to perform the ceremony as well, but was stopped by the chancellor Wei Zheng who argued against the financial pressure it would bring to the people. At the time in the early Tang dynasty, they were still recovering from the rebellion and the Sui dynasty's debt in building the Grand Ca.n.a.l.
Furthermore, note that here Gaozong's Court are not the only ones; in history the Fengshan sacrifices held by Gaozong were witnessed by envoys from India, Heian-era j.a.pan, Khmer, the Umayyad Caliphate, all of Korea's Three Kingdoms, the Gokturks, others from the Western Regions etcetera. Thus, the Fengshan sacrifice now is also a show of national power, one that Empress Wu must grasp if she wishes to fulfil her ambitions.
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- May 5, 2019